Gender Matching and Competitiveness: Experimental Evidence

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Men and women hold different types of jobs and are employed in different occupations. They also tend to work under different incentive systems, with women being compensated by piece rate payment schemes more frequently. (1) Relatively few women hold top corporate positions, although in many countries women's educational attainment now exceeds men's. (2) Fewer women than men have started up their own business (according to the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor, in 2002 in the United Kingdom, 3.1% of the female population and 6% of the male population contributed to start-up activities; the same year in France, only 26% of start-ups were created by women--SINE survey, INSEE). Women are also less likely to run for elections, and they represent a low percentage of seats in national parliaments (according to the Inter-Parliamentary Union, in 2006 they represented 19.7% in the United Kingdom, 18.5% in France, and 16.3% in the United States).

In order to explain these gender differences economists have considered supply- and demand-side explanations. Demand-side explanations focus on discrimination (see Altonji and Blank 1999 for a review of these theories, Neumark, Blank, and Van Nort 1996 or Goldin and Rouse 2000 for empirical evidence). Supply-side explanations usually emphasize the role of women in the family and its impact on human capital investment and career choices (Mincer and Polachek 1974; Polachek 1981). A more recent literature analyzes if there are gender differences in competitiveness, investigating both the effect of gender on the productive efficiency of incentives and the effect of gender on the selection of competitive incentives. Gneezy, Niederle, and Rustichini (2003) show that men, in contrast to women, perform better in competitive settings than when paid a piece rate. Niederle and Vesterlund (2007) reveal a different tendency of men and women to choose to be rewarded based on relative performance rather than on the basis of one's own performance only. Women tend to shy away from competition. The reasons behind these intriguing results are still poorly understood and they have inspired many other studies. In particular, they lead us to investigate the sensitiveness of women's competitiveness to the environment. In our laboratory experiment, participants also have to choose between a piece rate and a tournament payment scheme before performing a task. The novelty of our experiment is that we measure, conditional on a person's own gender, the impact of gender matching on the person's competitiveness. Compared to Niederle and Vesterlund (2007), we can measure how beliefs regarding potential competitors' choices influence individuals' decisions.

There are several reasons why individuals in competitive situations may perceive other individuals' gender to be relevant. First, they may believe that the ability or payment scheme choices of men and women differ, which can lead them to condition behavior on other individuals' gender. Second, they may use their own and the other participants' gender as a coordination device (see Holm 2000; Knight 2002). Third, some individuals may, regardless of beliefs about underlying fundamentals and gender-based conventions, have preferences that induce them to treat men and women differently. Our experiment, while not designed to cleanly distinguish between these mutually nonexclusive explanations, is designed to analyze in the laboratory whether information on the gender of a potential competitor influences the decision to compete or not.

An important experimental design choice was how to provide gender information. (3) We began by employing an indirect procedure: participants were given pseudonyms that corresponded to their gender, and they learned each other's pseudonyms before making decisions, but it was not made common knowledge to participants in the instructions that a pseudonym was male (female) if and only if the person in question was a man (woman). …